tv Maria Hinojosa One-on- One PBS April 9, 2016 4:00pm-4:31pm PDT
>> hinojosa: she's one of the most iconic mother figures in the history of american television. in the 1980s, she became a household name with her role as bill cosby's wife clair huxtable in the hit sitcom the cosby show. since then, she's starred in movies, tv series, and on broadway, and in 2004, became the first african american to win a tony for best leading actress in a play-- celebrated actress phylicia rashad. i'm maria hinojosa, this is one on one. phylicia rashad, what an honor to have you on our program. thank you for joining us. >> thank you, thank you so much.
>> hinojosa: so you know, the cosby show has been off the air for 20 years, and i wondered, do you... do you get tired of talking about the cosby show? i mean, you've done so much between then and now. or do you still feel that in the year 2011 we need to talk about the cosby show? >> i think the cosby show is... what could i say? it... landmark television, revolutionized television in many ways, saved a network, universal, appreciated all over the world. >> hinojosa: all over the world. >> all over the world. >> hinojosa: this is... this is a fact that i didn't know-- that nelson mandela used to watch the cosby show from robin island with his white guard. >> yes. and he told me this, and he told... he thanked me for this show and he said, "we watched it together and your show softened
him." >> hinojosa: amazing. how often do you think about it, though? i mean, you know, you are... you are an icon. what does one do when, you know, you helped to create that, and yet you walk in the world, you're a working actor, so how often do you think about that? >> when somebody mentions it i'll think about it. i was always very happy to be a part of it. i considered it one of the greatest gifts ever and i still do and i'm always happy to talk about it. >> hinojosa: and you love mr. cos... you still call him "mr. cosby." >> well, respect-- r-e-s-p-c-t. ( laughing ) i love him, i adore him, yes, i do. >> hinojosa: he is fearless on so many levels. >> yes, he is. >> hinojosa: what was the fearless part about him that you came to... to love so much? >> everything about him. i loved his attention to detail
and the fact that he seemed to be paying attention to only one thing when, in fact, he was paying attention to everything. >> hinojosa: like even the artwork that was hanging up... >> especially the artwork that was hanging up, small pictures on the set. and when you look at episodes of that show, the production values are unlike anything else. he... he's a student of history, and i mean the history of comedy and the history of television, the history of films, history of performing as well as the history of governments throughout the world. the man is amazing. >> hinojosa: not afraid at all to talk on the issue of race. >> no. >> hinojosa: had alvin poussaint helping to "decode/recode" blackness for america. >> well, he wanted to make sure that things were correct, you know? he wanted to make sure that any references we made-- even the slight thing about rudy having a cough and her father getting her
to take the cough syrup-- that nothing was askew even to slightly suggest something that a child could take in the wrong way. he was... he had tremendous, and still does, tremendous respect for his audience's intelligence, and he used to say this all the time: "the audience is not stupid. we're not going to have stupid people on this show." >> hinojosa: and now when you look at television, phylicia, you know, i'm... and i know that you've spoken about, for example, some of the family sitcoms, and i'm a mom, you know? and when i see these family sitcoms and these kids kind of answering back to their parents, and i'm like, "hmm?" what do you see? what goes on in your heart when you're watching television these days? >> television and some film. it's ridiculous, it's ridiculous. i was watching something last night that was a big film and
young people, and when i heard certain things being said, i thought, "you know what? i'm not going to watch this. i... i... just, this is dumb, it is stupid, and i'm not going to watch it." because any child growing up in my house who talked that way, well, a couple of things would be happening. they'd be in the emergency room and i'd be in the court. >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) >> i mean, come on, let's face it. you're just not going to have that. so why would i spend time watching something that i don't accept? i'm not going to do that. >> hinojosa: so is that what we need to do? i mean, so many people, with the cosby show, turned it on and that's what gave it that power, right? i mean, you actually had the numbers. >> yeah. >> hinojosa: top rated show. >> we had the numbers because people could identify with it. it resonated with people because it was real. i mean, i watched something the other night that would be in that... in that arena, but there was no real relationship between the man and the wife because they... people... he wasn't afraid of anything.
he wasn't afraid... he wasn't afraid of the relationship between the husband and wife, he wasn't afraid of the... >> hinojosa: that it wasn't always perfect. >> that it wasn't always perfect but there was so much love in it-- there was so much love and romance. and there was always... you knew it; i mean, you know, you knew it. there was nothing vulgar about it, but you knew it and you accepted it. "oh, yeah, that's... that's the truth. that's what happens," you know? nothing sterile about it. >> hinojosa: and when you... when you would hear these criticisms of like, "oh, that's so unreal"... >> i laugh at that, because i wondered, "who do these people know?" ( laughing ) i grew up in houston, texas and my father was a dentist and he wasn't the only one. there was an... an association of african american dentists-- the charles a. drew dental society, all right? >> hinojosa: in houston, in the year... you know, i mean, just because a lot of people don't think of houston as having a strong african american community, necessarily. it's such a latino population
now and so mixed, but you were there and there was a big african american community-- still there. >> not one, several. >> hinojosa: many. >> there were several. there were... there were at least four african american high schools-- five-- and there were one to two junior high schools feeding into those... each high school, and there were two to three to four elementary schools feeding into the junior high schools. you see what i'm saying? and in every community, there were professionals. there were doctors, there were dentists, there were attorneys, people owned the grocery stores, people owned things, people had businesses, it was that way, that's the way it was. >> hinojosa: so while there was all of that, you were also growing up at a time when there was segregation. >> legal segregation. >> hinojosa: legal segregation. >> in this country. >> hinojosa: can you tell me the story about what you did when you were a little girl and you saw the water fountain? >> ( laughing )
>> hinojosa: i love this story. >> well, first of all, let me just say this all begins with my mother, vivian ayers, who decided that her children were not going to be scarred by racism, so if there was something that we wanted to do or someplace that we wanted to go and we were not allowed to go because of legal segregation, she would say, "well, we're not going to go there because that's a private club and we're not members of that club," and we'd say, "oh, okay." all right? >> hinojosa: okay, mom. >> and in the meantime, we tumbled in the living room. she'd move the furniture away and teach us to tumble. she'd bring all of our friends in off the street and teach us choral speech, she taught us to read music, she had literature, i mean, and there was john biggers and joseph mack and all these artists who were in our home all the time. so our world experience was not
defined by legal segregation, and when your world experience is not defined by legal segregation, your understanding of yourself is broad, okay? so there i am, i've learned how to read, and i'm in the grocery store and there are two water fountains and one says "for colored," and the other one says, "for whites only." well, i was always a curious child-- most inquisitive about life and things. i always wanted to know, you know, where things came from and what they were and why. and i looked and i would read... i would read that sign. i would look at that sign and i would look at that sign and i said, "now, why... why is that like that?" >> hinojosa: did you know white? did you understand that was for white people? >> i was beginning to understand it. i was beginning to understand it, but i wanted to know why. i mean, you know, i understood that that was going on. by this time, i understood what was going on, but i didn't quite
understand why because it never made sense, you know? it still doesn't make sense, okay? >> hinojosa: right, right. >> so i decided, "i'm going to go over there and i'm going to taste that water." >> hinojosa: which was a big deal. >> i went over there and i tasted that water and that water didn't taste any different. and i knew something in that moment that i wouldn't be able to articulate for a long time, and that was that humanity had tricked itself. >> hinojosa: to believe that somehow, we can separate ourselves. >> humanity had tricked itself into not... into refusal; refusing to accept itself in its fullness. >> hinojosa: in our sameness. >> yeah, in its fullness. >> hinojosa: your mom really is an extraordinary woman... >> mm-hmm. >> hinojos love this story...
>> ( laughing ) >> hinojosa: ...in fact, in the face of segregation... >> yes. >> hinojosa: ...your mom is looking for an out for you, for her children. and she says, "i'm going south-- i'm going to mexico." >> no, "we're going. we're... i've had enough. we're moving to mexico." no, "we're moving," that's what she said. we didn't think much of it, because you know, we would move from house... to change houses. "where are we going, mom?" "we're moving to mexico." >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) >> uh-huh, yeah, she did do that. >> hinojosa: you take a bus from houston, you arrive into mexico city, and what's amazing is is that in mexico, you, as an african american woman, feel entirely free. accepted? >> it's different... it's different. mexican people would see us
walking and they'd look at me, because i was the darker one, and they'd say, "aye, negrita; aye, negrita." and i didn't quite know what to make of that, and it was sometime before i understood that that was a compliment; that they were marveling at the color of my skin and found it very beautiful. >> hinojosa: what did that experience do? i mean, actually, we know that that experience did. it made you learn spanish and that helped you get that... that audition... >> yes, it did. >> hinojosa: ...for clair huxtable. >> ( laughing ) many years later; yes, it did. >> hinojosa: right? because bill cosby actually wanted his wife on the show to be able to speak spanish... >> he wanted a bilingual... >> hinojosa: ...which is very, very forward thinking. >> very forward thinking. >> hinojosa: what did that experience of living in latin america do for you as a young african american girl? >> as a young girl, it was so... it was an expansive experience. it was one of expansion. the world was big, the sources
of news were varied, and it was an international city and there were people from all over the world. and then there was this city that was steeped in its own history and culture. it was expansive. >> hinojosa: so when you think about what's happening in our country today in terms of african americans and latinos, how much of a dialogue do you think we need, someone like you, who is just so iconic in that? and it was... it was amazing for me to realize that you speak spanish, that you have this relationship. do you think about that? about the importance of, you know, yet again now another relationship that needs to be worked on-- african american and latino in our country? >> it does need to be worked on and i was privileged to have this conversation with one of my daughters who is a teacher in atlanta, georgia. and in her school there is a sizable hispanic population, and
you know, in her growing up-- this was my stepdaughter-- in her growing up, you know, i was sharing all these influences with all of the children all the time. and we were having this conversation one day, and i said to her, "you have to do something," because she was lamenting the fact... she was lamenting this exclusion. and i was explaining to her what it was like for me at age 13 to sit in a classroom and not understand the language in which the basic studies were being taught. i had been an a student, and all of a sudden, i sat in a classroom and couldn't understand the simplest thing because i didn't speak the language. and i was explaining to her what that was like from a young person's point of view and how it can render you feeling less than you are. it can affect one's self esteem, and so you may think somebody is
dull, when really, the truth of the matter is is they just don't speak your language-- and more importantly, as the teacher, you're not speaking theirs. >> hinojosa: so when you think about, you know, you're talking about at that point talking to your stepdaughter, you know, you are this iconic mother figure-- and i'm sure you're like, "oh, god; that word, 'iconic mother figure.'" >> yeah, what is that? >> hinojosa: "what is that?" >> it's easy when you're scripted, let me just get that out of the way. >> hinojosa: right. >> and the children are scripted too. >> hinojosa: right. >> okay? okay. >> hinojosa: but so many women also think of you as... as a woman of substance, as an actor and in the roles that you chose... that you choose... continue to choose. i was watching the amazing play that you did with sean p. diddy combs, a raisin in the sun. saw it on film and on television. you know, again, another lasting, important char...
you've done so many across, you know, in terms of theatre. but was that always conscious? were you always thinking, "i want to portray strong, dignified, smart women"? >> no. i wanted to portray... i wanted to give a faithful portrayal of human beings, whoever they are, and i wanted the human beings to have been written with a respect for their humanity, whatever their circumstances are. and that's what i wanted, and that's what i want. i've portrayed some people who were not iconic mother figures. i've portrayed mothers who murdered their children-- madea. >> hinojosa: right. >> i've portrayed a mother who was a substance abuser-- violet
weston, august: osage county... >> hinojosa: mm-hmm. >> ...who was a terror in the household, you know, and ended up in some kind of state of dementia, you know? they're not all clair huxtables. >> hinojosa: but they're all very powerful women. maybe... you know... >> they are respectfully written. >> hinojosa: hmm. >> you know? and this is the power of art. this is the power of theatre. this is the potential of film. this is the potential of all of it-- a truthful, faithful portrayal of a human being. it begins with the writing, it's carried through by the director who holds a vision, and as an actor, you become incorporated in that. >> hinojosa: how hard is it these days in, you know, commercial media? >> ooh, child! ( laughing ) >> hinojosa: so it's hard. >> i don't know.
i don't pay much attention to them. i just do the work that i do. >> hinojosa: but you're lucky, right? >> i'm very fortunate. >> hinojosa: because you... you get the calls. you... you continue to be able to work. >> i'm very fortunate, i'm very fortunate, yes, i am very fortunate. but i... i think a certain way. you know, the way you think is very important. if a writer is thinking in limited terms, it's reflected in the writing. august wilson's sister told me once that earlier on in his life at some point, august wilson went on a vision quest, and they were out in the natural surroundings and the person leading the quest asked the people to close their eyes and envision a body of water and then share with... what their
vision was. and some people said, "oh, i saw a beautiful lake," and someone said, "oh, i saw a beautiful pond," and someone said, "oh, i saw a rushing river," and august said, "man, i saw the whole ocean!" >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) >> you know? his vision was large, you know? mr. cosby's vision is large. >> hinojosa: and so we should not be afraid of large vision; being able to kind of take ownership of that. >> no. >> hinojosa: and yet... but as a little girl, amazingly, you actually thought that you weren't pretty. you thought you were ugly. >> but that's... that's normal. i mean, all little girls go through that. little girls... little girls go through that. well, honey, if you had my mother, and... my mother and my father and they way they looked, it's like, "you can't be pretty compared to them." no, they were just beautiful people, okay? just really, really gorgeous, beautiful people, and i thought, "oh, god was on a serious lunch break when i was born."
>> hinojosa: oh, my god! but... >> but i found something else. i... i found out what beauty really is, and i discovered it at an early age. and like most of my discoveries at an early age, i wouldn't be able to articulate it for many years to come. i was 11 years old in sixth grade and there was going to be this music festival of the elementary schools, and it was going to be in the great hall at that time in houston in the houston coliseum. and each school was going to have a representative audition to read the libretto from the musicians of bremen. an ancient tale, yes? >> hinojosa: pretty amazing. >> all right, so my teachers selected me because of my speech patterns. i don't know, anyway, we worked and we worked and we worked and we worked and we worked and then we went before the school board and had this audition.
and... and when we came out of it, they said, "they don't want you to read the libretto," and i said, "okay." "they want you to be the mistress of ceremonies for the entire evening." that meant more work. every day before classes and every afternoon after classes, no more time on the playground kicking the ball, you know? but every day, work, work, work, work, work with this script. so by the time the evening came, i knew the script by heart and i was dressed in the most beautiful dress and shirley temple curls and a crown of flowers and white ruffled socks and the whole thing. and i went to stand in front of the microphone. it was the first time ever that i stood in a spotlight and the light was so bright i couldn't see anything else. i couldn't see anybody in that coliseum. all i could see was light. and i help the script in my hand on a beautiful binder with musical notes and everything, but because of all the work we had done, i didn't need to look at the script because i knew it by heart.
so i just stood and i talked to the light and i talked to the light and i talked to the light... >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) >> ...and all the things i had to say to the light. when it was over and we were leaving, i heard several of the mothers who were coming to collect their children say, "there she is; oh, there's the little girl who spoke so beautifully. isn't she beautiful?" and i heard that, because that was the one thing i always wanted in my life and thought i'd never have was just to be beautiful. i thought, "when i grow up, i'm going to be an actress. i'm going to play in the light and beautiful all the time." but what i didn't understand was what that feeling of beauty was. it had nothing to do with what i was wearing or how my hair was arranged; it was communication from the heart. >> hinojosa: honesty. >> yeah. >> hinojosa: feeling. >> communication from the heart. >> hinojosa: so what do you say to... to young women of color who battle so much with their self image? who, you know... who don't see
themselves necessarily... i mean, you're not on television anymore. they don't see themselves reflected all the time... >> uh-uh, they don't. >> hinojosa: what do you say to them about owning their own beauty? >> you know, it's... it's really something for young girls, because it's so important for them to see something of themselves. and so, young ladies today, you're going to have to look inside your own self to see it, because there's not a lot that reflects it. there's a lot that says, "young girls, if you look like this and if you dress like this and you make yourself a field of pleasure for someone, you're going to do okay." and that's... that's a crock. ( laughing ) because that's... there's no truth in it at all. >> hinojosa: simply put. >> ( laughing ) that's a crock. don't believe that mess. take the time to look inside
your own self, you know? find something that speaks to your heart and develop yourself in that thing and then offer it... offer it to humanity. >> hinojosa: so where do you find... i mean, i know that everybody sees you and you're gorgeous and you're performing and you're doing all these things, but you know, we all know that life is also not always so simple and beautiful... >> no, it's not, is it? >> hinojosa: so where do you find your inspiration when you... you know, when you find yourself looking at our country or looking media, or you know, where do you tap into to find your own sense of inspiration and hope? >> i can look at a sunrise or a sunset, i can sit quietly and listen to birds and just watch light filtering through the leaves of trees, i can look at my cat, i can look at a garden,
i can look at children playing, i can look at things in life that make me remember-- that help me to remember-- that its source is beauty. the source of life is beauty. the source of life is love. and when you see these things, you see these natural wonders, see them with the understanding that you're so much a part of it that that same energy that's placed the stars and holds them in motion and guides their way and the galaxies as they twirl about, you're part of that-- we're part of that. and whatever intelligence that is that has set that in place set us in place too, lives in us too.
funding for "overhead" with evan smith is provided in part by m.f.i. foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community. experienced, respected, and tested. also by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. and viewers like you. thank you. >> i'm evan smith. she's a rock 'n' roll icon who spent 30 years as a bassist, guitarist, and vocalist in the hall of fame-worthy alternative band, sonic youth. her memoir, "girl in a band," has just been published. she's kim gordon, this is "overheard." [applause]. >> actually, there are not two sides to every issue. >> so i guess we can't fire him now. >> i guess we can't fire him now. the night that i win the emmy. >> being on the suprco